Understanding the Basics Behind Achilles Tendon Repair
What is Achilles Tendon Repair?
Whether you’re an athlete on the field or just going about your daily life, Achilles tendon injuries can happen to anyone.
These injuries can appear in the form of tendonitis or a complete rupture of the tendon itself. The causes of Achilles injuries range from overuse and repetitive motions to sudden, forceful strain.
If you’re suffering from tendonitis, or believe you’ve suffered a complete tear of the Achilles tendon, it’s vital to seek guidance from experienced orthopedic specialists. At Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance, we can ensure that you receive a proper diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan suited to your needs and challenges. With over 140 years of combined service, we utilize the best technologies and techniques customized to each patient.
After your initial examination with a KCOA physician, we will recommend the best treatment for your needs. Our practitioners provide the comprehensive care you need so you can return to the activities you enjoy.
Other common symptoms of Achilles injuries include:
- Pain that stretches down your leg into your heel
- Pain that worsens through activity
- Thickening of the tendon
- A sudden popping sound with sharp pain
Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance Achilles tendon Assessment
Assessing the Injury
Determining the proper Achilles tendon repair treatment starts with an assessment from one of our experienced providers.
You can think of foot and ankle pain as a spectrum, with some instances being more severe than others. The KCOA orthopedic specialists always focus on each patient and their concerns before creating a treatment plan.
Therefore, during your initial appointment, we will often ask questions such as:
- How did your injury occur/what was the mechanism of injury?
- Did you notice or hear a popping sound at the time of your injury?
- Is walking or running painful or limited by the injury.
- Has your pain progressed or worsened recently?
- Have you experienced any tingling or numbness in your foot that makes tasks difficult?
- Have you noticed any change in your symptoms that has made it more challenging to function?
- What are your lifestyle goals?
- How has pain affected those goals?
The answers to these questions help shape the next steps of the assessment process and guide our physical examination. After a proper assessment, we often begin with a physical examination to help determine the origin point of your pain. In some cases, advanced testing may be required for a full diagnosis.
Also called radiographs, an X-ray captures a picture of the ankle, heel, or lower leg. Orthopedic physicians may order an X-ray to rule out the possibility of a fracture (broken bone), osteoarthritis, or other bone-related conditions.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI captures images of muscles, bones, intervertebral discs, and tendons to help provide information other tests can’t detail. During an MRI, you will lie on a table that slides into a tube-shaped scanner. The machine creates a magnetic field around you, using pulsed radio waves to form the MRI images.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Foot & Ankle Injuries
With so many different parts working together in your feet and ankles, there are many potential causes of pain. And each of those causes has a unique set of symptoms.
Achilles injuries often cause pain and swelling in your heel, making it difficult to walk or bend downward. In less severe cases, you may feel pain and stiffness in the heel. When a patient visits one of our KCOA offices, a skilled orthopedic specialist will ask you questions regarding your symptoms, what aggravates/alleviates your symptoms, and whether you have attempted prior therapies. Next comes a thorough physical exam. We will then review any images you bring with you and/or take new images. After determining the cause of your pain or loss of function, we will discuss the best treatment options to meet your needs.
Causes of Foot & Ankle Pain
The body has different kinds of joints, and they all face different challenges. The foot and ankle combine for a complex region of the body, totaling 26 bones and 33 small joints that experience daily wear and tear. Soft tissue protects the joints and bones, and is made up of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels.
The Achilles tendon is part of this soft tissue system and is the largest tendon in your body. It connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. It allows you to push off forcefully with your toes, like when you jump, run or raise your heels up off the ground.
The most common cause of tendonitis is repeated motion, a spike in activity or simply the daily wear and tear that accumulates from years of activity. When your Achilles tendon tears, however, it’s often because of a sudden strong force. Many athletes rupture their Achilles tendons due to non-contact injuries, such as sudden movements or pivots.
Generally, surgery is not the first choice for treatment at Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance. If we can treat your Achilles tendon issue with more conservative treatments, we will do so. We typically exhaust all non-surgical options before recommending surgery.
Non-surgical treatments for Achilles tendon injuries include:
- Physical Therapy – Movement can actually reduce pain and encourage healing in the Achilles tendon, as movement increases circulation and supplies other nutrients that support joint health and function. Stretching and flexibility exercises, strengthening exercises, deep tissue massages, and cryotherapy may be helpful.
- Medications – Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil) or prescription medications. Especially with NSAIDs, you should always talk to your doctor to ensure they are the right treatment for you.
- Immobilization – Immobilization involves the use of casts, braces and walking boots to allow the affected area to heal. With immobilization, we can protect the Achilles tendon and allow the area to heal while reducing pain and swelling.
- Regenerative Medicines – Regenerative medicines like stem cell injections or platelet-rich plasma can help nourish worn or damaged tissue. This option works best if you have mild-to-moderate Achilles pain or minor tearing of the tendon.
Establishing a Care Plan
Based on the results of your interview, examination, and imaging studies, you can expect a custom care plan catered specifically to you.
Many people believe it’s best to wait until pain becomes severe, leading them to “put off” or delay treatments like Achilles tendon repair.
If you are in constant discomfort, have shooting or stabbing pains, have limited range of motion, or an inability to perform your daily activities, Achilles tendon repair may be right for you.
New technologies allow patients with severe foot and ankle pain to fully recover and enjoy the benefits of a more functional, pain-free lifestyle.
Prior to surgery, you will typically receive at least 2 phone calls:
- A hospital registration representative will call to gather insurance and other personal information.
- A registered nurse will call to review your health history and medication information.
Dependent on your health history, your physician may require:
- Pre-surgical laboratory tests
- Primary care clearance
Pre-operative instructions will vary depending on your physician and the location of your surgery. Always check with your physician before surgery for specific instructions.
Most physicians require that patients not eat or drink after midnight prior to surgery.
Additionally, you will need to designate a family member or friend to drive you home on the day you are released from the hospital. Surgical patients cannot drive themselves home.
Day of Surgery
If you schedule your surgery with a KCOA physician, you can expect the following on surgery day:
- A receptionist will check you in at the hospital registration desk.
- A nurse will take you back and prepare you for surgery. They will start an IV, prepare the surgical site, and review your medical history and medications.
- Your surgeon and anesthesiologist will visit with you prior to your operation.
- The surgical team will take you to the operation suite for surgery.
How it Works
If your Achilles tendon is completely ruptured or torn, your provider may recommend surgery to repair the issue. As part of the procedure, your surgeon may stitch the tendon back together, remove the damaged parts of the tendon, or replace part or all of the tendon.
There are some instances where an Achilles tendon repair surgery can be minimally invasive. Rather than one large incision, our surgeons can perform several small incisions and even use a special scope and camera for the repair. The type of repair performed is dependent on the severity of the injury, the patient’s goals and the physician’s unique perspective on how to best manage the injury.
During Achilles tendon surgery, you will require you to remain under anesthesia during the procedure. During the surgery, your surgeon will make an incision in the back of the calf. If the tendon is ruptured, the surgeon will either stitch the tendon back together using sutures or anchor the torn tendon back to the heel.
If the tendon is degenerated, the surgeon may remove the damaged part of the tendon and repair the rest of the tendon with sutures. If there is severe damage to a significant portion of the tendon, the surgeon might replace part or all of your Achilles tendon. This is done by transferring a tendon from another location in your foot to act as a graft or to reinforce the damaged area.
Post-Op & What to Expect
After your surgery, you will remain in the recovery room while our experienced clinical team monitors you, providing pain relief medication, if needed. You can expect soreness, swelling and discoloration in the foot and ankle in the days and weeks following surgery.
You will likely be placed in a boot or cast to immobilize your foot and instructed on how to use crutches or a walker to decrease the force being placed through the leg. The period of immobilization and limited weight-bearing is dependent on the extent of your injury and your physician’s guidance.
Rest, ice, and elevation will also be critical during your early recovery. Some people may also need support stockings as well to prevent blood clots from forming. When showering, you should take proper incision care measures as instructed.
Physical therapy and rehab will start based on your provider’s discretion and will be extremely helpful in your recovery process. It may take 6-12 months to fully recover from an Achilles rupture and repair.
We recommend regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and monitoring your blood sugar levels if you’re diabetic. In doing so, you may reduce the amount of stress on your joints to slow down any potential degenerative process.
Frequently Asked Questions
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With access to board-certified specialists across Kansas City, we have the tools to meet almost every musculoskeletal condition.
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